Nova Deals PC's NCAA Chances A Blow

Sixteenth-ranked Villanova entered the game 24-6 and 12-5 in the Big East and attempting to secure a top four seed and two byes in the Big East tournament. Providence came into the game 18-11 and 10-7 in the league and fighting for its NCAA tournament life. Something had to give.

With a 27-game winning streak in the Pavilion, the Wildcats were a proven commodity at home. Meanwhile, PC's players were well aware of the importance of adding a big road win to its NCAA resume.

Weyinmi Efejuku came out hot, personally wiping out a 5-0 deficit, and scoring PC's first ten points, as the Friars battled to a 10-9 advantage, and 12 of PC's first thirteen points. Efejuku's hoops were scored on an array of three pointers, driving layups and twisting midrange pops. In the meantime, Nova's Dwayne Anderson picked up two quick fouls, as Geoff McDermott and Jonathan Kale crashed the glass.

Despite Efejuku's heroics, Scottie Reynold's three off a cross court pick on Sharaud Curry put Nova up 16-14., and Dante Cunningham followed a layup home for a 7-0 run that forced a Keno Davis timeout. During the run, Nova's defense pushed out on PC, forcing the ballhandlers far from the hoop, and taking away the crisp passing that marked the Friars' early attack. Jeff Xavier snapped the 11-0 run with a short baseline pop to break a five plus minute scoreless streak for Providence at the 10:49 mark. Without question, the Wildcats in-your-face defense and quick hands were giving the Friars fits, particularly the PC ballhandlers.

After a McDermott dunk, Nova opened a 29-20 lead on another Reynolds three, and that was followed by a Shane Clark three after a steal. As Villanova jumped the passing lanes and outhustled the Friars for loose balls, PC appeared flustered and out of its rhythm on offense, turning the ball over eight times, which led to 15 points and a 32-20 deficit.

A three pointer by Marshon Brooks and a short jumper by Kale trimmed the lead to 32-25, and the Friars fought to keep it close. After Nova opened up a nine point lead, a coast to coast drive by Brooks, a Curry three and a Randall Hanke bank shot pulled PC to within 37-32 with just over two minutes to play. Brooks narrowed the lead to three on a dunk off a loose ball scrum. But Corey Stokes answered with a three with forty seconds left. PC played for the final shot but Reynolds drew an offensive foul on a Efejuku drive and Villanova led 40-34 at the half.

At the half, despite being badly outplayed at times, the Friars found themselves still within striking range. Efejuku had cooled off, missing his final four attempts of the half after making his first five, and had not scored in the final fifteen minutes. For Villanova, Reynolds led the way with ten points, followed by Stokes with 8 and Cunningham with six. Brooks showed signs of bouncing back from his scoreless game against Rutgers, with 7 points and McDermott had hit the boards hard. But Villanova's quickness and length, despite their lack of size, unquestionably bothered Curry and caused havoc with the Friars' halfcourt game, creating 11 turnovers. The Wildcats pushed the ball, got into passing lanes, and contested offensive rebounds.

Dwayne Anderson opened the second half with Nova's seventh three and Villanova was back up by nine quickly, but an Efejuku free throw and McDermott layup cut the deficit back to six. A Curry three was followed by a McDermott to Efejuku alley-oop and Nova's lead was 45-42. before Anderson and Curry traded threes, as the half opened with looser play. At this point, missed opportunities prevented PC from creeping closer, as Efejuku missed a dunk and Curry missed a driving layup and a deep three.

Wrapped around a Jeff Xavier corner three, Dwayne Anderson poured in two baskets to put Nova up 54-48, and Anderson had 17 points in just over ten minutes of play. Efejuku sliced through the defense but missed the layup and Cunningham answered with a foul line jumper, but McDermott followed with a baseline jumper, as Cunningham missed three straight free throws. At that point, Jay Wright decided to turn up the heat. A half court trap by Villanova created a turnover, resulting in a Corey Fisher three, followed by a Reynolds steal and a layup for a 63-51 lead, and the Friars were reeling against the increased Wildcat pressure.

Four points by Kale rallied Providence, but Reynolds nailed a three for a thirteen point lead after an Antonio Pena layup. After two rare Reynolds' free throw misses, Efejuku emphatically slammed home a dunk after a drive to the hoop and then banked in a jumper and completed the and one, but Reynolds sandwiched two threes around a Weyinmi tthree, and PC was down eleven.

Fouled in the act of shooting a three, Efejuku nailed all three foul shots, but a Fisher steal and layup made it 80-69 before a Curry deep three cut it to eight. But Providence proved unable to get stops, as Villanova sliced through the Friars' zone and found Cunningham for a layup and three point play with four minutes remaining. After three Kale free throws, Cunningham nailed a short jumper, and Curry drove to the basket, but was mugged to no call and turned the ball over.

Stokes knocked down a three, and Reynolds stripped Efejuku for Villanova's 17th steal and glided in for a layup and a 90-75 lead and Nova was home free. The final three minutes turned into a blowout as Providence continued turning the ball over and Nova continued racing down the floor for easy layups, as Villanova rolled to a 97-80 win.

In the end, Villanova was just too good and simply had too much balance for PC. The Wildcats put five players into double figures, led by Reynolds with 23 points, and Anderson and Cunningham with 19 apiece. Providence received a valiant effort by Efejuku, who finished with 29 points on 9-16 shooting, but, despite 14 apiece from Kale and Curry, too few Friars proved to be threats. Nova nailed 13-25 threes and forced 22 turnovers, including 18 steals. The Friars were unable to handle Villanova's pressure, were not strong enough with the ball, and did a poor job of finding the three point shooters, although, in PC's defense, between Reynolds, Anderson, Stokes and Fisher, Villanova may have simply had too many good three point shooters to guard.

So now PC gets ready for the Big East tournament next week, along with a first round bye, reward for finishing 10-8 in the league and in the top half. The bigger question for fans to ponder over the next week will be exactly what PC needs to do in the league tournament to place itself back in the crosshairs of the NCAA Selection Committee.

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